THE VETERANS' DILEMMA. EMPLOYMENT OF EX-SOLDIERS OF THE KING'S AFRICAN RIFLES' NYASALAND (MALAWI) BATTALIONS, 1902-1939
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The author's intention was to shed some light on the lives of colonial soldiers from the King's African Rifles (KAR) and their fate after they had served their term in the army. As a case study served the KAR battalions raised in Nyasaland, modern Malavi. The main theme of this article is the British officers' changing attitudes towards their African soldiers.In 1902, the British Empire decided to amalgamate various colonial units it had raised in East Africa to form a single regiment, the King's African Rifles. Using non-European troops was convenient on several accounts (i.e. natives' resistance to local climates and diseases). Originally, the colonial military showed scant interest in the fate of their men after discharge. This attitude began gradually to change because of a pressing military need to create a reserve to support a reduced army during a crisis. It took until the advent of the WW II for the reluctant army to begin to assume responsibility in finding civilian employment for its African soldiers after they left service. Creating reserves turned out to be difficult. Reservist were not allowed to leave their place of residence for long periods of time, so they were unable to work as migratory workers or to establish themselves as migrant traders. They were also explicitly forbidden to join the police or the jail department. Thus only those ex-soldiers who did return to their villages to work on their own land, or those who became rural labourers on local white plantations could in fact fill the reserves. The only effective way to change it was to provide the reservists with some actual additional benefits in finding work. The first step in this direction was the organization of a system of registration, which allowed reservists to go to the Rhodesian and South African mines with an assurance that they would be allowed to return in case of emergency. At the same time a Recruit Employment Bureau was establish to find work for ex-soldiers. The position of native African soldiers in British colonial service was originally very awkward. Military authorities never considered them as equal to white troops and this affected their pay, training and equipment. Black soldiers were also viewed with suspicion as a potential source of rebellion. As time went by native recruits were able to strengthen their position towards their military superiors and their native communities. Nyasaland soldiers, originally treated more or less as mercenaries towards whom the army had no responsibilities beyond their term of service, were able to improve their position also towards their employers in the colonial military. Pay and training improved, discipline relaxed and gradually the military authorities were forced to take notice also of the future employment of ex-soldiers.
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